PORTLAND – In a night of firsts, the Portland Pirates closed out the first half of the American Hockey League season with a 3-1 win over the Manchester Monarchs before 5,625 Saturday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Rookie goaltender Mike Lee made 31 saves in his first start for the Pirates, who earned their first win over the Monarchs at home this season.
Most important, it was the first win in four games for Portland (25-16-1-1), which heads into the AHL All-Star break in first place in the Atlantic Division. Manchester (21-19-2-2) is four points back.
“The effort was much better tonight,” Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said. “For 60 minutes we competed really hard. We haven’t been doing that, frankly. We focused tonight on having a solid game heading into the break, just to be feeling good about ourselves, and we did that.”
For good measure, Chris Summers scored on Portland’s first shot, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead just 33 seconds into the game, sending a pass from Jordan Szwarz past goalie Martin Jones (27 saves). Brandon Gormley also assisted.
Portland struck again 1:20 later when Darian Dziurzynski beat Jones from in front for his fifth goal of the season. Ethan Werek and Brett Hextall assisted.
Manchester rookie Tyler Toffoli cut Portland’s lead in half, finishing off a breakaway on Lee with just 1.5 seconds left in the first. Toffoli’s wrist shot caught the crossbar and caromed in. It was his 20th goal of the season and his ninth goal in eight games against the Pirates.
“We needed a good start and we got one,” Edwards said. “I didn’t like how that period ended. We got sloppy but the guys responded in the second, we gained some momentum and managed the puck a lot better. That power-play goal was huge for us.”
Chris Connor restored Portland’s two-goal lead with a power-play score at 14:26. Skating four-on-three, Connor drifted into the right circle and took a cross-ice pass from Andy Miele.
Lee, recalled Thursday from Gwinnett of the ECHL, made strong stops throughout, particularly in the third when Anthony Stewart had a pair of bids from point-plank range with about 13 minutes to play, and again when he turned aside two shots by Toffoli.
“(The early lead) was huge,” Lee said. “The bigger thing was we got back to playing defense the way we can.”
The Pirates killed all six of their penalties.
“Mike was an All-Star in the ECHL, and he came off the bench in a big shootout win (4-3) at Wilkes-Barre (Dec. 8), so we knew what we were getting,” Edwards said. “He was deserving of the opportunity and he made the most of it.”
The Pirates resume play Friday at home to Worcester.
“We’ll have these four days, then the season starts,” Edwards said. “We’ll have 33 games to jockey for position and then it’s the playoffs. Our work starts now.”